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Source: Landcare Research

During the March – May COVID-19 alert levels 4 and 3 lockdown (rāhui), 40 people from across Aotearoa New Zealand shared reflections of connecting with nature with our social scientist, Alison Greenaway. People who have a sense of kaitiakitanga or guardianship expressed great responsibility for the whenua (land), and for the environment.

“Rāhui aside, it’s my responsibility as an indigenous woman of Aotearoa to care for our whenua, …to look after the natural resources that are here. They are part of our whakapapa, part of who we are, and they are the whakapapa of our tamariki. If we don’t help keep them flourishing, then it reflects on us as a people. If the whenua is sick or if the awa is sick or if the moana’s sick, then we, the people, are sick”
(South Aucklander).

The response to Covid-19 made people think about how to handle environmental crises

Most people did not feel required by law to care for nature during lockdown – nor at any other time; apart from animal welfare, waste disposal and managing water use. Those who were concerned about the environment noted how well people had responded to COVID-19 rules and wished there were stricter rules and/or more visible leadership responding to environmental crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and plastic in the ocean.

Farmers noted that caring for nature is part of their job and lifestyle and this did not change much during lockdown. Those who see themselves in relationship with nature, as part of a bigger system felt called to maintain a good relationship with nature. Some people already designed their lifestyles and household consumption to limit their impacts on nature, so this prepared them well for lockdown; knowing how to grow food, bottle it and make do with what was around them.

“I’ve always had a veggie garden and so that’s been no different, although we’ve been in a terrible drought up here this summer and it hasn’t finished yet. I’m involved with a couple of taiao (environment) projects with our iwi and we just haven’t been able to progress those in a practical sense over the last month, but, nevertheless, I don’t think that matters so much. They’ll keep, and when the time’s right, we’ll get back out there and get onto it again”
(Northlander).

Some people were able to keep caring for nature through their paid employment or unpaid voluntary work.  Most people had to adjust their activity and focus more on coordination rather than on the ground activities (e.g. weed and pest control on public land was limited or halted).

Not being able to swim impacted wellbeing

Not being able to swim in rivers and the ocean during lockdown was commonly noted as a disruption to peoples’ connections with nature. Many expressed sadness but acceptance of this limitation. A few thought the policy was ill-conceived because of the impacts this might have on other people’s wellbeing (they themselves were managing okay). One person commented that the policy was not appropriate during a health crisis because swimming is key to maintaining wellbeing.

“We haven’t been able to swim, which for us is quite a big deal because it’s part of our healing and cleansing process, and it’s part of keeping up our health and wellbeing. And when we get stressed or when we get down, we go to the water and we swim, and we pure (remove tapu), and we clear all the crap” (South Aucklander).

Read other stories from this study:

MIL OSI